The day my father bought a Brita filter was a big day. It was also the day we stopped eating white bread, but that is besides the point. It was a cursed day. My sister and I now had a new chore: fill the Brita pitcher with water straight from the tap, watch as the Brita filter would beep and flash its needs to us, and pray that we had not broken yet another of our Dad’s adventitious purchases. The result would be water that I would call not half bad and it was better than having to buy a water bottle every time we would head outside. However, I would be stating the obvious in saying that tap water is not usually delicious and its flavor varies from borough to borough, state to state, heck, even from neighbor to neighbor. You would not want to drink the morning tap water without letting it run first, and you would definitely not want to drink the tap water in Flint, Michigan.
For my small family in the Bronx, drinking tap water is not only a smarter way to save money (and plastic, though that was not the foremost thought in my father’s thrifty mind) but it was an actual and safe option. This year, I realized that the tap was not a viable source of water for thousands of people in America. What with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan where faucets have–since 2014–been and still are producing water that is vile, poisonous and flammable or the failing protests against the construction of the Dakota pipeline–which will sully the source of water and ruin the daily lives of the Sioux tribe–it is clear that American greed and apathy will, once again, be the antagonist in this long American tradition of the U.S. as “the bad guy.” In Flint, Michigan, the predominantly African-American community has been dependent on the short, briefly empathetic attention span of the American public. The residents of Flint have been solely dependent on the donation of water bottles for their source of clean water and FEMA has repeatedly denied Flint any financial aid, stating that, since the water crisis is a man-made problem, it does not fit FEMA’s definition of a disaster. Flint only qualifies for financial aid for temporary emergency assistance and it is clear that the people of Flint will be left to fend for themselves. This is certainly happening sooner than later as this Labor Day until noon of this Tuesday, the nine water distribution centers in Flint will be closed and residents will have to turn to churches and community centers for water. The fact that this crisis is a fading interest in the American eye reminds me of the delayed response during Hurricane Katrina; black lives are not being considered as valuable and worthy of a direct and complete response and relief.
In the case of the Dakota Pipeline, a $3.7 billion investment and the promise of potential job opportunities is made more important than the welfare of Native Americans. Crude oil is once again taking precedence over the potential ruination of an entire tribe. This calls to mind the pioneer roots of American history and how, in the effort to expand the western frontier, Americans seized Native American land, hunted down wild buffaloes and put Native Americans in “corrective” schools to rid whole tribes of their language, culture and way of life. This pipeline is just another way that Americans are resisting positive, conservative, environmental and moral change. Instead of listening to the demands of the Sioux tribe, officials have maced and set dogs on protesters. This is an image all too familiar for us, certainly this year and certainly this decade. We are constantly finding ourselves acting as the oppressor or complacent consenters. Just look at our history with police brutality and ineptitude, look at the little progress made in respecting human rights, in recognizing our greed, in changing our ways. We value oil though it is clear that it is a finite and damaging source of fuel. We value obedience and silence though it comes at the price of the lives of African Americans and of Native Americans. A Brita filter will not clean the water in Flint, Michigan, will not solve the problems of the Sioux tribe, and will not right the world. What a Brita filter can do is help me do my part and help me realize that there are bigger problems, not insurmountable problems, but bigger problems that are all connected and relevant.